One day, the French philosopher Denis Diderot came into possession of a beautiful scarlet dressing gown. He spent a long and silent time admiring its splendor.
And the more he analyzed the fabric, the more he understood that all his other possessions paled in comparison to this new dressing gown. This feeling became so uncomfortable that Diderot soon replaced all his furniture with more expensive options. He bought a new golden clock, a bronze sculpture, a console table, and more art pieces.
Crippled by debt, Diderot understood that he had forfeited his soul to an object of worship he couldn’t properly understand, “I was the absolute master of my old robe. I have become the slave of the new one.”
While this story may seem ridiculous, we often find ourselves worshiping whatever feeds our ego.
During the Roman Republic the river Rubicon acted as a sort of frontier line between the Roman province of Cisalpine Gaul to the northeast and Italy proper, controlled directly by Rome, to the south.
In 49 BC, perhaps on January 10, Julius Caesar led a single legion, Legio XIII Gemina, south over the Rubicon from Cisalpine Gaul into Italy. In doing so, he deliberately broke the law limiting his imperium, his authority to control his army.
As he led his army across the Rubicon river into Central Italy, Julius Caesar is credited to having said the following words, “Alea iacta est”.
Some five hundred years ago, a 26 year old sculptor was given the task of turning a leftover slab of marble into a work of art. Other artists had tried to give life to the stone and had failed, but the young artist took on the contract, determined to shape the marble that others had discarded.
Early in the morning on September 13, 1501, the young artist began to work in order to extract his vision from the piece of stone. He carved and carved until he set his dream free.
Later, artist Giorgio Vasari would describe the process as, “bringing back to life of one who was dead.”
One of the most famous stories in Homer’s Odyssey is that of Ulysses encountering the sirens.
Upon his return home from the Trojan war, Ulysses stumbles upon the sirens – magical creatures of the sea, whose singing bewitches sailors and lures them to their deaths.
Ulysses, aware of the deadly nature of the their hypnotizing voices, instructs his men to plug their ears with beeswax and to tie him to the ship’s mast. As the ship approached the siren’s island, Ulysses becomes enchanted by their singing. He commands that his crew untie him, but his men, their ears full of beeswax, ignore the desperate please of their captain, rowing the boat to safety.
Unfortunately, that’s not quite how the story goes…